Handel is famous as one of the greatest English composers, but he was actually born in Germany, and although he lived in England for more than 45 years and became an English citizen, he spoke with a strong German accent until his dying day.
His most famous instrumental pieces are the Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks. Both are collections, or ‘suites’, of short pieces which are often modelled on popular French dance forms: elegant minuets, bourrées with their quicker steps, and the sprightly hornpipe. These suites would typically begin with an introduction or ‘Ouverture’ — French for ‘opening’.
The Water Music is one of Handel’s early compositions; he had only been in England for three or four years, but his music was already a great favourite with the king, George I. It was written as entertainment for a royal boating party along the Thames River one summer’s evening in 1717. There were about 50 musicians in the orchestra; it’s still a bit of a mystery how they all fitted on the royal barge!
Music for the Royal Fireworks was written quite late in Handel’s career, only a year or two before his eyesight began to fail and he stopped being able to compose. More than 12,000 people came to see the fireworks, which were put on to celebrate the end of the war with France — in fact, so many people had turned up to a public rehearsal of Handel’s music the day before, that they had caused London’s first traffic jam!